It’s the cliché we all talk about – that we watched Doctor Who from behind sofa – and in my case I know it’s not an implanted memory because I grew up in a very cold house. Watching TV in the winter meant sitting almost on top of the open fire in our living room. Well in the fireplace of the living room, obviously. To watch from behind the sofa, far away from the fire, meant you had to be seriously scared by something; scared enough to endure half an hour of the cold. I can remember being that frightened by Doctor Who on more than one occasion.
Looking back now, as the series reaches its 50th birthday, it’s hard to see what we found so frightening in those classic episodes. Technology has moved on so very far that those early monsters can’t hold a candle to modern special effects. Yet at the time, the fear was very real, and that’s down to the writers and the actors of the period. It was in the actors’ faces that we saw terror, and felt it embed itself in us, and of all the creatures that the Doctor faced, as terrifying as the Daleks were; there was one adversary that always scared me more than the rest: The Master.
Why did The Master frighten me the most? I think it’s because I didn’t understand him. The Daleks you can understand – they just want to kill everyone. What’s frightening about them is that, plus their relentlessness. The Master is a different level of scary – he might seem friendly one minute, evil the next. He is deceitful and manipulative. He would change sides in a moment. And, oh my goodness, he sometimes seems to be cleverer than The Doctor himself; our hero, the one who’s supposed to save us simple humans, the one who uses his unbelievable intelligence to escape from even the most desperate situations. That there might be someone smarter than him, someone bad, was very frightening indeed.
Most of my favourite memories of Doctor Who are of Tom Baker. The scarf, the coat, the jelly babies. That voice, those crazy eyes. For me he remains the best of them all, though Jon Pertwee runs him a very close second. That choice is obviously somewhat dictated by the age I was during Baker’s run, and what a run it was, over seven years. But there’s more to it than that; Baker was simply a near perfect Doctor, and his time on the show did for me what it did for many people – it opened up a lifelong love of great science fiction.
Doctor Who audio
You can listen to extracts from all our Doctor Who audiobook shorts on our Soundcloud player and you can buy Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories on Penguin.co.uk. Long live The Doctor!